Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast
New Releases for 5/18/12
The Dictator (R)
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas, Megan Fox
Directed by: Larry Charles
The comedic genius who brought us “Borat” and “Bruno” has created a fresh new character—Admiral General Aladeen, the hereditary dictator of a mysterious North African country that no one heard about before this movie hit the theaters. The dictator is an equal opportunity offender and non-PC to the extreme, and is disliked immensely by almost everyone on the planet (except his fellow third-world despots). Determined to speak “the truth”at the UN, the real dictator is kidnapped, shaved and cast onto the streets of New York, while his enemies install a look-alike in his place, and the world is none the wiser. The beardless former-dictator is given shelter by Zoe, an organic grocery store manager, who assumes the guy is a “crazy street-person,” and can be retrained to be socially acceptable. Paced with an opening that is primarily exposition, the big laughs are mostly R-rated, and clustered towards the end, giving the audience enough time to see the scripted genius of making a thoroughly horrible fascist become a satiric mirror for current events.
3 and 1/2 pieces of farcical fascist toast
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson
Directed by: Peter Berg
When I first heard the title, I immediately flashed on the board game involving inch-long plastic ships and nail-clipping-sized torpedoes shielded from your opponent by the board’s flip-up cover. Then I learned that the Hasbro game is the source of this film. Funny, I don’t remember the angry extra-terrestrials bent on destroying humankind in the original version. It seems we deserve all the havoc, because we were the ones who upset the ETs by shining that nasty satellite laser into their eyes. The result is a summer-movie orgy of explosions, five or six lines of dialogue (usually from men who talk with their teeth clenched shut), and then another series of loud, louder, loudest explosions. I just wonder if the film is trying to ensure that the Navy’s battleship budget doesn’t get cut. “We need this new battleship,” says the lobbyist to Congress, “in case we are attacked by angry aliens!”
2 and 1/2 pieces of loud, louder, loudest toast
What to Expect When You’re Expecting (PG-13)
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Matthew J. Morrison, Brooklyn Decker, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Kirk Jones
Here’s another rom-com based on a popular advice book, only this one fizzles. The female contingent of new mothers, mothers-to-be, and women-who-desperately-want-to-be-mothers are fine, but the husbands and boyfriends have one-liners that sound like they were written for Ricky Ricardo when “Lucy” was a new TV show. There are about ten minutes of really good material onscreen, but the film drags on for 110 minutes, and if you want lots of laughs, you should significantly lower your expectations.
1 and 1/2 pieces of don’t expect lots of laughs toast
Girl In Progress (PG-13)
Starring: Eva Mendes, Matthew Modine, Cierra Ramirez
Directed by: Patricia Riggen
This mother-daughter, coming-of-age story has the daughter using a wall chart to forecast the required plot points and story arc. However, when the various points are checked off, one-by-one, this is done without any of the self-conscious freshness of the opening scenes, and the whole thing fizzles away as the characters remain one-dimensional and uninteresting.
1 and 1/2 pieces of stale toast
Darling Companion (PG-13)
Starring: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Diane Wiest, Richard Jenkins
Directed by: Lawrence Kasden
An abandoned collie dog becomes the surrogate child for a Denver empty-nester married to a self-obsessed surgeon. The dog (named Freeway for where his was rescued), saves the marriage in an unusual way—by getting lost in the mountains. The search for the pooch means the couple must face hardship in the outdoors, Yes, there is the requisite rainstorm, the confrontations with wild animals and an almost pre-ordained ending, but it’s pleasant enough.
2 and 1/2 pieces of not the Big Chill toast
The Sound of My Voice (R)
Starring: Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Avery Pohl, Nicole Vicius
Directed by: Zai Batmanglij
Documentary filmmakers decide to expose a cult holed-up in a suburban LA neighborhood. (Don’t laugh. In the movie about the band Fishbone at this year’s Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival, we learned about a cult based in Novato). Like a low-budget X-Files, the cultists include a woman who claims to be from the near future, a graying, but still hunky, nerd, and a group of newcomers who the leaders describe as “weak suckers looking for meaning.” Artfully using the “less is more” style, this indie intrigues the audience with thoughts of “does that mean?” and “what if?”
3 pieces of indie toast
NEW ON DVD
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russel, Michael B. Jordan, Ashley Hinshaw
Directed by: Josh Trank
In addition to dreams about flying, I assume everyone has what-ifs about having superpowers. The representative youngsters in this film have typical teen problems, so when they magically acquire extraordinary skills, they establish rules of behavioral secrecy which are soon abandoned. Each teen experiments with ways to make things “better” (or at least extract revenge), and the clever set ups surprise us with what finally transpires. And who said every superhero needs a cape and costume?
3 pieces of ordinary guys with super powers toast
Albert Nobbs (R)
Starring: Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Pauline Collins
Directed by: Rodrigo Garcia
Because it has worked so well in the past, every Oscar season seems to have a film starring a woman playing a man—(Hilary Swank “Boys Don’t Cry,” Felicity Huffman “Transamerica,” Tilda Swinton “Orlando,” Linda Hunt “The Year of Living Dangerously,”and even Julie Andrews in the gender-bending “Victor/Victoria”). This time, it’s two actresses donning men’s attire. Glenn Close dresses in a derby, starched collar and tie, as she tackles the title role of a nineteenth century woman who dressed as a man to secure a waiter/butler job at an aristocratic Dublin hotel. When she is forced to share a room with a man named Hubert, we find that this other man (played by Janet McTeer) is hiding her inner identity as well. It works. Both women have earned Oscar nominations.
3 pieces of things aren’t always what you think they are toast
The Grey (R)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Plane crashes loaded with contrasting “types” of survivors (aristocratic/working class, outdoorsman/intellectual, etc. etc.), is a movie staple. This new film just adds a ravenous pack of wolves and an Arctic wilderness to spice things up a bit. Neeson rechannels Schindler, Jean Valjean and Star Wars’ Qui-Gon Jinn as he battles beasts both human and canine, and eases people’s passing from this world to the next. The fake snow looks great, but the wolves—the filmmakers should have gone back to huskies with rubber bands around their snouts to show off their fangs.
2 and 1/2 pieces of bad CG wolves toast